Celtics

Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge scoffed at the notion that players might be leery of playing in Boston given the fallout from last season and said his staff will spend this week coming up with a plan for how to aggressively attack Sunday's start of free agency. 

After the draft on Thursday, a defiant Ainge insisted players were “dying” to be in Boston, even as the team braces for the likelihood that All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford will walk away this summer. After introducing the team’s four new draftees on Monday at the Auerbach Center, Ainge was emphatic again when asked if players would be leery of coming to Boston give the circumstances of last season.

"I don't think so at all,” said Ainge. “No.”

The bigger challenge for Ainge and his front office pals is simply trying to get ready for the frenetic start of free agency given that it seemed unlikely until recently that Boston would have potential cap space to work with.

If Irving and Horford walk away, and the Celtics renounce the rights to their other free agents, Boston can generate nearly $34 million in cap room to start the summer. That number drops to closer to $26 million if the team extends a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Terry Rozier while waiting to see what sort of market develops for the point guard.

That unexpected cap space leaves Boston with a variety of avenues it could travel at the start of free agency. The Celtics could try to elbow their way into the conversation with a big-ticket free agent, or pursue a lower-tier and leave some flexibility with building out the rest of the roster. Boston could also use that space to seek talent in trades, or simply eat a bad contract in exchange for future assets that might aid the quest for a star talent further down the road.

The question that Boston brass must figure out is what’s feasible at the start of free agency. Can they get meetings with top players now, or would their time and energy be better spent on lower-tier targets?

"I like the fact that we have different opportunities,” said Ainge. "And we have some flexibility but I don’t really know what is realistic yet. That’s what we’ll spend the rest of this week trying to figure out is what even do we have a chance to do and where should be our priorities? But I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about the flexibility that we have. I’m excited about the youth that we have and some of our returning players. I think it’s going to be a really fun year. Looking forward to it.”

Ainge said that his staff will be prepared for all potential avenues.

“We have a really good feel for all the players in the league, who they are and how they might fit with us and our needs and so forth,” said Ainge. "I wouldn't say a lot more homework but we will have a lot of conversation. That's probably the biggest thing, just to get organized as we possibly can for all the possible scenarios in free agency."

A few more notes from Ainge’s eight-minute session with reporters: 

* Ainge confirmed an ESPN report that the Celtics plan to hire Fairmont State coach Joe Mazzulla for their assistant coaching vacancy. Said Ainge: "I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves but, yeah, we’re moving in that direction. It’s not been finalized yet but we’re moving in that direction. We’ve had Joe here with us [with the Maine Red Claws] before and he’s well-liked by everybody.”

* In the same vein, Ainge admitted the team plans to bring in undrafted big man Tacko Fall to be part of the team’s summer squad. "So, again, those things aren’t final final so I can’t really make comments on them,” said Ainge. "But we do have intentions of having Tacko play with us in the summer league and coming to [summer league] camp next week.”

* Ainge remains incredibly bullish on what’s ahead next season for Gordon Hayward: "I think Gordon is going to have a great year. He's putting in as much work as anybody and we get to see it. I mean, he's here a lot. I'm very excited for Gordon's upcoming year."

Why C's should feel good about their future>>>>

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Tacko Fall is a 'high priority' for Celtics, has a chance to make team

Tacko Fall is a 'high priority' for Celtics, has a chance to make team

Yes, Tacko Fall is ridiculously tall. Yes, he's fascinating to watch.

But the Boston Celtics are hoping the 7-foot-7 big man is more than a novelty act.

Speaking on NBC Sports Boston after an introductory press conference for Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge expressed optimism that Fall can remain a part of the team this season.

"I think that Tacko's going to have a chance to make the roster. But we'll see," Ainge told co-hosts Kyle Draper and Brian Scalabrine at the Auerbach Center.  "... We see some upside there. We're excited about him."

Fall, who averaged 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in the NBA Summer League, is signed on an Exhibit 10 contract, which means another team could swoop in and sign him at any point, even if he survives roster cuts and joins the G-League affiliate Maine Red Claws.

But the Celtics could protect Fall by signing him to a roster spot (perhaps on a two-way contract), which they have available after waiving Guerschon Yabusele. And in discussing Fall's play in Las Vegas, Ainge suggested that's a possibility

"Tacko is fun to watch," Ainge told reporters Wednesday. "I mean, he makes me laugh. Some of the plays he makes are hilarious, because you just don't see them. Guards get in a bind and they just throw the ball up in the air and then Tacko grabs it and tip-toe dunks it into the basket. It just looks like a senior in high school playing against fourth-graders sometimes out there.

"He's a great kid, he's working really hard. We want to take his development very, very seriously. He's a high priority for us to try to really develop into a player."

Ainge said Fall is in Boston working out but will head back to his native Senegal to see his family, so his fate may not be decided until later this summer.

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Danny Ainge reveals when he had an idea Celtics would lose Kyrie Irving in free agency

Danny Ainge reveals when he had an idea Celtics would lose Kyrie Irving in free agency

Kyrie Irving chose to take his talents to the Brooklyn Nets in NBA free agency instead of re-signing with the Boston Celtics, and C's president of basketball of operations Danny Ainge had a feeling late in the regular season that the superstar point guard ultimately would not sign an extension with the franchise.

"I think I had a pretty good idea in March or April," Ainge told reporters Wednesday after the team's introductory press conference for free-agent signings Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. "Not for sure, though. Not certain. But I was obviously thinking about moving in a different direction at that point. Thinking of the different options."

Ainge added: "It's a tough business. You got to have lots of different directions to go. You have to be ready. We had others -- if this one that we had today, we're sitting here with two guys that chose to come to us that we're very fortunate to have -- but if it hadn't happened, we would've had another plan."

New York Knicks forward Bobby Portis recently told The Athletic that players around the league knew in February that Irving and Kevin Durant would be going to the Nets this summer. So, it doens't sound like Irving's intentions were much of a secret to anyone inside the game.

Irving famously told C's season ticket holders back in October that he planned to re-sign with the team. He even made a Nike commercial about being the last player to wear No. 11 in Celtic green. However, the Celtics fell woefully short of expectations during the 2018-19 season, and Irving's lack of quality leadership contributed to the team's disappointing second-round playoff exit. When the season had ended, many fans didn't even want Irving to come back to Boston.

The Celtics pivoted quickly and effectively, though. Walker is an excellent replacement for Irving as the team's starting point guard and primary scorer. He's coming off the best season of his career in which he averaged a personal best 25.6 points and was named an All-Star starter and an all-NBA third team member.

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